WKU student discusses body image and plus-size fashion

Louisville junior Denise Smith participated as a plus size model.

Anna Anderson

Denise Smith is an active member of WKU’s fashion community, participating in events like the Black Student Alliance’s Rip the Runway and the Miss Omega Pageant put on by Omega Psi Phi.

The 21-year-old junior from Louisville is proud of her body, and she is committed to helping others be proud of theirs too.

Q: In the age of Pinterest and Tumblr, people are bombarded with images of skinny people, and recipes for low-fat food, and work out regiments to get thin. Is this a good thing or is it damaging?

A: “I think health-wise it could be a good thing. But as, between yourself and the way you feel about yourself, it can be a bit discouraging because it’s like society thinks, ‘Maybe we all have a problem.’

“You know — that obesity is a scary thing, but I think that curves are just gorgeous. I think it can be very swaying and it can shift your thoughts a lot. I think it could be a good thing, but in my eyes, I don’t want to see it on my timeline.”

Q: How interested would you say you are in fashion?

A: “I wouldn’t say that I’m like, just dive into it. I have friends that are fashion majors who are, just, I mean, they know a lot more than me, but I think it’s important. I think it’s a form of expression. So, I like to see what the new trends are or what looks good on me. I get into new things every year, like my new thing now is lipstick. I’m obsessed with lipstick and thick eyeliner.”

Q: How would you describe your style? What do you tend to gravitate towards?

A: “My style is a bit urbanized, but I try to keep it retro. I love color, and I think less is more so I try to keep the clothes simple and really fix it up with the hair.

“And I have crazy nails and nose rings and stuff like that. I like to keep my clothes simple, but everything else makes a statement. Like tattoos — I have a lot of tattoos and those are clearly going to stay with me forever. But I just like to focus on simple — less is more — and it causes for a great outcome.”

Q: Are there any favorite items in your closet right now?

A: “I have a camo jacket that I got from the Goodwill that I actually wore in the photo shoot. It is my absolute favorite. It’s so old, but you can’t tell. I spent a total of three dollars on that jacket — less is more — and what else do I have?

“I have a stunning pair of shoes. They’re a six-inch red suede, European sandal. They are just to die for. Like, they take you back to the 60s with the platforms and stuff like that. Every time I put them on, it makes me love my tattoo on my foot and my legs just look great. Those are my favorite pair of shoes.”

Q: In the past few years, we’ve been starting to see more curvy women in fashion. Why do you think that’s happening?

A: “I think more people are starting to open up to the fact that there’s more than one type of body — there’s more than one type of shape. There’s different ways of looking pretty. I feel like ‘traditional pretty’ is not in anymore. Your blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, they’re gorgeous.

“But I think nowadays, since we have a generation of creativity, you see a lot of people just stepping out of their box. People are looking for the uniqueness in a person and they find beauty in the difference — what separates you from everyone else. So, I just feel that fashion will start to be a lot more open to other possibilities.”

Q: So, it’s definitely changed. But what do you think still needs to happen in the fashion industry for it to be more open and more accepting?

A: “I think when we’re looking for girls to do spreads, the criteria shouldn’t be so strict. If I wanted to go do a plus-size modeling ad, do I have to be 5’7” or up? Or do I have to have a certain length of hair? Does my tattoo really matter when I’m taking a picture? You know, small things like that.

“Sometimes I feel like, when you’re in the fashion world, you’re not as free to be yourself. You have to take into consideration other people with every decision that you make — all the way down to your fingertips. It bothers me.”

Q: What would you say to someone who is struggling with how they view their body?

A: “To me, I would say that if you don’t like it, you can change it. But if you don’t plan on changing it, then you can learn to be happy with yourself. To me, you look this way for a reason. You know, I’m very religious. I believe God has a purpose for everyone — you look this way for a reason.

“So just learn to love yourself. Even if you have to look at yourself and tell yourself that you look good every day. I can wake up and say, ‘Oh, my hair looks great today,’ or ‘I like the way my butt looks in these jeans,’ or something like that. Just be happy with yourself. You can change, but if you don’t have plans to change you can just learn to adapt and adjust.”

Q: What can people do every day to boost their confidence? What do you do?

A: I like to think of myself as an Instagram model, but, you know — treat yourself. Don’t cheat yourself. Whatever makes you feel good, whatever makes you smile — do it often. Try not to be so negative, and find out what works for you. Like, I know that I can’t wear a bikini, so I’m not going to try.

“Just find out what works for you. What you like, what you don’t like. Explore your options and be open. Don’t stick to one thing. Yeah, I know that maxi dresses look great on me, but I won’t wear a maxi dress every day. I’ll be open to other things and possibilities. You know, explore. Don’t be scared to try new things.”

Next month, Smith will be modeling in Rip the Runway and assisting with the Miss Omega Pageant. The pageant highlights curvaceous women who wear plus-sized clothing. The dates are not yet available, but check out the Herald for more coverage in April.